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Low turnout prevents strike action at Aberdeen for second time in a row

Aberdeen UCU members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, but did not meet required 50% participation rate

By Anttoni James Numminen

Photo courtesy of Anttoni James Numminen

For the second time in just over three months, Aberdeen UCU did not meet the 50% participation threshold required by law for strike action to go ahead.

The industrial dispute is over proposed changes to the USS pension scheme, which could see staff lose hundreds of thousands of pounds over the course of their careers and retirement.

The most recent re-ballot in January this year garnered 74% support for strike action but only 41.7% of the 583 members of the local higher education union cast a ballot.

Speaking to The Gaudie, Dr Ashish Malik, a lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences said he was ‘disappointed’ by what he described as ‘lacklustre union participation’.

Dr Malik put the low participation down to increasing workloads and a ‘lack of time and energy to invest in such fights’, adding: ‘Quite a thing that fights to reduce workloads don't succeed because staff are so overwhelmed with work.’

A University of Aberdeen spokesperson said: ‘This is a national dispute and we hope that national talks in respect of pensions will lead to a resolution.

‘As a University, we are fully engaged in the national consultation process associated with proposed changes to the USS pension scheme which closed on 17 January, and we continue to support our staff community - both members and eligible members - by providing information and advice on the proposals.’

At the end of January, the union put forward what it described as new proposals, which it says offers a ‘way out’ of disruptive industrial action in February, would see retirement benefits protected in return for a small increase in contributions for both members and employers ahead of a new ‘evidence-based valuation’ of the scheme.

In practice, the UCU’s proposals include calling on employers to ‘provide the same level of covenant support’ and ‘to facilitate a cost-sharing of current benefits throughout the 2022/23 scheme year, starting 1 April 2022 at 11% member/23.7% employer until 1 October 2022, and 11.8%/25.2% thereafter’ and ‘that employers agree to pay a maximum 25.2% and members a maximum of 9.8% from 1 April 2023’.

The Gaudie interviewed Aberdeen UCU’s pensions officer, Professor Gerhard Kling, on the issue of the January reballot and the new proposals.

Prof Kling, who is Chair of Finance at the University of Aberdeen, said that the result of the reballot was ‘disappointing’ and the ‘timing potentially affected it with people travelling over the Christmas break, as well as facing heavy workloads while the postal service was also affected.’

On the UCU’s new proposals, Prof Kling said he had no more information about the proposal than was available to the public, which was ‘essentially just a few bullet points, making it hard to assess.’

Concerning the changes in member contributions towards the pension scheme, which the new proposal suggests raise to over 10%, Prof Kling said there were different aspects to consider, especially tax implications.

‘Fundamentally, however, it is a question of who takes the risk.’ Kling said that as it stands, there is not as much risk for members but with defined contributions ‘the risk is yours.’

The University of Aberdeen declined to comment on the new proposals.

Meanwhile, up to 50,000 staff members at 68 UK universities are to go on strike over changes to the pension scheme, pay and working conditions from 14 February.


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